Reviewer: Charity Bishop
I like movies set in the middle ages. I like the grit and dirt and romance. I like the sword fighting and chivalry. I enjoy a good story. And with a bit more restraint, I would have liked Ironclad a whole lot more.
In the year 1215, the rebel barons of England have forced the despised and tyrannical King John (Paul Giamatti) to put his name and royal seal on the Magna Carta, a document that upholds the rights of free-men. But with his signature barely dry, John seeks to assemble a mercenary army to bring the rebels to heel, in defiance of his agreement with the common folk. In Rome, the Pope upholds John's claim to the throne, leaving the Archbishop of London (Charles Dance) in defiance when he sends orders that a pivotal castle that controls much of England is to be defended by the Holy Templers. Having lost their prelate to John's barbarity, the remaining Templers provide a distraction so that their leader Marshal (James Purefoy) can escape. Together with the rebel baron Albany (Brian Cox) and an assortment of knights and fighters, Marshal rides to defend the mighty Rochester castle from invasion.
Once there, he finds a certain amount of reluctance toward loyalty in the occupying tenant (Derek Jacobi) whose celibate marriage to the much younger Isabel (Kate Mara) has left her deeply unhappy. But her curiosity toward the Knights Templar is the least of Marshal's problems, as he attempts to defend a castle with twenty men against thousands. From a cinematic perspective, this movie is excellent. It has a surprisingly good cast for being so little known and absolutely beautiful costume design. The execution is skillful and it creates a sense of ominous dread and nobility in its leading characters and their plight. But when it comes to history, this poorly represents actual events, mangling everything from the invading army to how long the siege lasted. It may peak your interest enough to read about the real deal, but also disappoint in the sense that the real story is just as cinematic as the fictional one. It did a marvelous job of making me both like and dislike Isabel in the sense that I enjoyed her as a person, but did not care for her providing an intentional temptation to Marshal, whose vows to the church include celibacy.
In terms of acting, this had a great amount of talent and everyone's contribution is stellar, particularly Giamatti as the resentful King John. I had an inkling early on that this would make an excellent addition to any Robin Hood-leaning movie collections out there but was soon proven wrong with the carnage. Toned down, I would have liked it a great deal more -- but in the end, I found myself fast-forwarding through all the battle scenes. War is hell, but that doesn't mean the audience should wallow through its realities, nor become desensitized to them, and sadly, this film is proof that many a modern viewer (and a great many film producers and directors) have done just that.
One man is a womanizer; we first meet him in a brothel, in which we see the bare breasts of the prostitute he is asleep with. He ogles other women and another time, locks a door and passionately kisses her, pulling her down onto a table before the scene fades out. Isabel is frustrated with a marriage that has not been consummated; it is unclear why, but dialogue hints that he's a homosexual. She clearly wants Marshal and tries to entice him into a sexual affair -- he kisses her and the next morning she is shown asleep in his bed.
Language is nominal, although there are frequent insults that involve the term "whore," and about a half dozen uses of GD.
When we see a prelate have his tongue brutally cut out on screen, that's our indication of what is to come -- severed limbs, horrific amounts of blood spray, heads being sliced into. We watch as an axe thuds down into a man's skull, literally slicing him in half down the center of his body. Traitors are tied down and have their hands and feet cut off (brutally, in full range of the camera). People are impaled with arrows and javelins, have limbs and throats cut, are hurled from battlements, spattered with hot oil, and set on fire. Main characters meet a bloody and terrible end. It was disgusting and soured me on what I enjoyed about the film.